Thursday, 3 June 2010

What's Happening in the Garden

I've finally finished my small but perfectly chicken-proofed vegetable garden. Actually I think the term "garden" is a bit grand for two small squares of denuded soil where the chickens houses once sat. I think I go with "patch" instead.

There are a few tomatoes in the greenhouse, and some potatoes and peas in pots as well. It's the first proper gardening I've done in two years, since I was made redundant post-accident. I always had surplus vegetables from the estate's kitchen garden and had no reason (or time) to grow my own outside of my job. I've found this little patch immensely more satisfying. I had lost my enthusiasm for gardening, but now that I can experiment with techniques and vegetable varieties of my choosing, it's no longer a job but just another happy part of our life. The "two veg" to go with our meat.

Speaking of which, I collected my share of the meat chicks today from underkeeper Pete. They are off heat but still need shelter and food. LOTS of food. You've never seen anything eat the quantities these 'bred for meat' chickens do.

We're trying a range of birds for the table, to see which we prefer. The winner will be the bird we produce for ourselves and possibly a small local market. This bird comes from a friend who supplies KFC, so it's the same breed that fast food outlets use in their products. The difference will be in their diet, and access to pasture and greens. I hope this is enough difference to put a tasty bird on the table.

They've only been here a few hours and already I can't envision a farmyard of these dullards. They loll about hanging a head in the food trough to eat, clump together in random corners and don't want to walk the two feet from house to the grass area. I still think a slower-growing dual purpose heritage breed will be the way forward.

I also re-homed my first brood of mixed bantams - I swapped them for two great sides of smoked trout. The chickens have a fancy new A-frame and doting owner to care for them. There are only 4 more chicks to sell this year. It hasn't been fruitful on the chicken breeding front. Barbara the Silkie hen is broody again - like Old Faithful she is - so I think there will be a late hatch of something pretty.

Some of the lavender Pekin chicks are frizzles!

This is what he/she will look like when grown (only lavender instead of white) -

Courtesy of

It might be an acquired taste, but I think they look comical tottering around the garden. My chickens are for eggs and my amusement. I admire the little pekins, and they're great mothers. I wonder if they can trap more heat in their permed plumage to keep chicks warm?

We have officially finished pheasant egg collecting today and plan to celebrate with a bottle of cider and leftovers for dinner. I wondered what I was going to do with the extra free time but I expect tending the garden and the meat chickens will fill it quickly. As it's tick season again I can use the time to go over the dogs and pick ticks off them. (Are you envying me my glamorous lifestyle yet?) We're up to 9 dogs this week as we have a visitor to stay -

Old Bracken. She belongs to one of the local landowners who shoots here. She was a spectacular working dog and even in her dotage comes out to pick up a bird or two. Mike trained Bracken for her owner, so she still shares a special bond with him. And with my dirty green sock apparently. She's been snoring away on the old sheepskin since she arrived, and the house dogs are respectful and don't disturb her. She's deaf as a stump, which is common in old gun dogs (and some of the owners) from all the gunshot I suppose. She'll get some old lady pampering - bath, nails done, tick check - before she goes home. Then Pip can have her sheepskin back. Pip's making do with my bed, so don't go feeling too sorry for her.

Note to self: tick check BEFORE bed tonight...


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

We thought about meat birds this year, but ran up against the Meat Bird Conundrum. You can get birds bred for the purpose, which are apparently painful to watch as they can't move around very well and don't seem much like birds, but are cost-effective. Or you can get the dual-purpose birds, let them run around and glory in their chickenhood, and pay more to feed them than it would cost to buy a whole chicken, ready for the grill.

We're thinking maybe turkeys instead.

Jennifer Montero said...

The only sure way we found to slow down the 'for meat' birds was to raise them under a broody hen. It could be a halfway for you: next time Queenie goes broody, foster a dozen meat chicks under her and reap the rewards later.

I've been researching the dual purpose / heritage breeds and Orpingtons are said to be a good option.

I've never tried turkeys, though Mike has and says they're an excellent crop though they take a bit longer than chickens to mature. I will watch with interest. You can be my turkey & bee guru

Poppy Cottage said...

I have done turkeys and they are fun to watch, easy to kill and pluck and taste dead nice!! Four the first year and 20 odd the second year. Free range sold for lots and was really nice to have around (although the two weeks before Christmas I didn't sleep, I was so worried they'd get knicked!!

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

I am in the process of raising heritage turkeys, they are finicky buggers to raise and I have recently read they are born with zero immune systems. So extra care is required when raising them from hatch. Heritage turkeys take about 28 weeks to market weight(But are so flavourful!) and the broad breasted white (the commercial mutations) I think take about 16 weeks and up for a large bird.
I have orpingtons here and their body type is very similar to the commercial meat birds and mature at a slower more natural pace.We had one last year that was finished on open pollenated corn and it tasted like buttered popcorn! I would love to learn how to capon a rooster. Why is that not done any longer? It sure would come in handy that's for sure, you could raise any standard variety to a good weight, it is just those raging hormones that keep them from eating/gaining! Try eating one of those meat birds at about 4-5 weeks of age- super tender! about 1.5 to 2lbs dressed weight. (they look really cute in a tux..)

Paula said...

My sister in law still has the turkey she bought to have for Thanksgiving and then didn't have the heart to off him. I think that it's probably a better idea to start with something small that doesn't take so much feed just in case you wind up with another pet, and not dinner. I'll be watching to see how both of you do- I"m hoping someday to do chickens.

Love the pictures of the pekin- what a pretty bird.

Also loved the fact that lucky you have nine dogs to play with! Tick duty not included, of course. I'm a little dog-starved these days, but I enjoyed hearing about Bracken!

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - You're right, the people I speak to who moved from raising chickens to raising turkeys say it's significantly more profitable for not much more work. I understand the big step is raising geese (special equipment needed to process them for market)

HKS - I also heard the same about turkeys' health issues but I think it's not such a big problem if you keep a few in a bigger space. If you run them with chickens you can increase your chances of disease, particularly blackhead.

You've convinced me to try the orpingtons, I'm going to set a hatch in the next week.

Caponing is done by giving a large dose of hormone injection in the back of the rooster's neck. It's illegal in the EU now, whether for health or welfare reasons I don't know. Hence the race to breed a meat bird that would bulk up on food.

Looking at our hybrid meat breed, I actually think it's bred to do better in a protected barn than as a free range animal. I was surprisingly impressed by the set up where we bought the chicks - clean, temperate, dust-free, no ammonia. It was so high tech, built around this breed's needs. I'm not sure they are going to be as well catered for physically by my outdoor set-up.

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - I hear that a lot about turkeys. There are always a few living out their lives in our local animal shelters!

I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about Bracken. Chocolate labs aren't always known for their working traits, but she's truly a gem. I could do without the tick thing too - they're one creature that gives me the creeps (maybe it's the Lyme Disease thing)

Poppy Cottage said...

Did geese too - bit of a dark horse really!!